New York Soccer: Eric Cantona

Rapid Reax: Manchester United 6, Cosmos 0

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
4:23
PM ET
The New York Cosmos have stated that joining MLS is their ultimate goal. Now they have something in common with the Seattle Sounders.

In the spirit of the man being honored for his ruthless form for the Red Devils, Manchester United decimated the first American club to ever play at Old Trafford as the New York Cosmos dropped a 6-0 decision in the Paul Scholes Testimonial on Friday in their first professional match in 27 years.

Friday's man of the hour played a key role in the first two goals in a game whose outcome rarely seemed in doubt after the first whistle. Scholes opened the scoring in the 9th minute by launching a rocket from 25 yards out before tucking the ball inside the upper 90 of the near post. After Cosmos Academy West phenom Marvin Iraheta brought down Man U winger Ashley Young in the box, Wayne Rooney took the ensuing penalty at the request of Scholes and ricocheted his shot off the top cross bar for a 28th minute goal for a 2-0 lead that Man U took into halftime.

The scoring floodgates opened in the second half as Anderson scored a one-timer in the 51st minute after the Brazilian midfielder executed a give-and-go exchange with Danny Welbeck to beat the makeshift Cosmos back line for goal number three. Welbeck later picked up a failed clearance near the spot to score goal number four.

Mame Biram Diouf collected a double by putting a ball past Chad Calderone's feet in the 68th minute and picking up an Anderson through ball on the right flank and sprinting down the wing before taking an easy strike just outside the six-yard box that deflected off Calderone in the 74th minute for goal number six.

Play of the Game: The Decision to Play. When the Cosmos signed on to face Manchester United on their own turf, they likely didn't intend to mimic the 7-0 drubbing delivered to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field by the Red Devils on July 20.

That said, the Man U massacre still serves two purposes for the club aspiring to join Major League Soccer. First, even the loss gives the Cosmos gravitas as the Manchester United spotlight adds an air of authenticity to the festivities. They didn't get beaten by just anyone, and there was not much of an expectation of an upset considering how the Cosmos patched together their squad with faded English Premier League stars and Cosmos Academy prospects and gave them two practices to find a suitable form.

Second, it shows that the Cosmos have juice to make this happen. They didn't book the match through Soccer United Marketing. They didn't enter a tournament which happened to feature the Red Devils. The Cosmos booked a match with one of the premier clubs in the world with their limited resources and the name recognition of Pelé and Cosmos Director of Soccer Eric Cantona.

It's a moral victory, but even that's a first for a club that hasn't played a competitive match since 1984.

Think of the Children. Though he had a wide array of elite talent at his disposal, Cantona elected to start four of the U-23 players that made trip across the Atlantic. Along with the 18-year-old Iraheta, Cantona selected defender Yannick Reyering, midfielder Dane Murphy, and forward Stefan Dimitrov saw significant time against the Red Devils' first team. Calderone came in after halftime to replace a beleaguered 'keeper Brad Friedel, though the backup keeper with New York roots inevitably allowed twice as many goals as the Cosmos starter.

Stake Your Claim. In a pre-match ceremony, Pelé presented Scholes with a #10 New York Cosmos jersey bearing the English midfielder's name. Scholes made his number 18 famous during his Red Devils tenure, but the Cosmos jersey number is that of the presenter who became synonymous with the iconic #10 jersey during his playing days with the Brazilian national team, Santos, and, of course, later with the Cosmos.

Ready for More? Manchester United will now complete its final preparations before kicking off in the FA Community Shield match against Manchester City this weekend.

As for the Cosmos, their itinerary isn't quite so clear after they return stateside. A rumored 40th anniversary match to be held in New York City this fall may still be in the works, while the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Friday that the Cosmos received an invitation to participate in the inaugural Vegas Winter Kick tournament on February 25 against an undetermined opponent.

No league. No team. No players. No opponents. No schedule. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your New York Cosmos.

W2W4: NY Cosmos at Manchester United

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
10:07
AM ET
Don't call it a comeback -- they've been here at least a year.

A mere four days after the one-year anniversary of the reincarnation of a distinctly American soccer phenomenon, the New York Cosmos will kick off in their first high-profile match in 27 years on Friday against famed English Premier League club Manchester United at Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. Despite no league affiliation and no regular players above the Academy level, the New York side will become the first American club to play a match at Old Trafford.

The friendly will serve as a testimonial match to longtime Man U midfielder Paul Scholes, who retired following the 2010-11 EPL season after spending his entire 15-year career playing for the Red Devils. Scholes will don the iconic red kit of Manchester United one last time as a player before committing to his new role as a coach for the only club to ever issue him a paycheck.

Key Matchup: Cosmos vs. Their Own Expectations. The ghosts of Cosmos past include the likes of German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia, and the prolific Brazilian forward Pelé, but the starting XI of today's Cosmos are household names in the soccer world for other reasons.

Cosmos Director of Soccer Eric Cantona will field a side for a 4-3-3 formation consisting largely of mercenaries who likely won't be part of the club's playing days to come. Cantona's personnel includes notable Manchester United players in Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, and Dwight Yorke along with Italian center back Fabio Cannavaro, French midfielder Patrick Vieira, and an American duo of forward Brian McBride and goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

For as much as that star-studded squad will gather to celebrate the Scholes Testimonial, they will also represent a Cosmos organization seeking accreditation on the domestic soccer scene. First impressions are everything, especially for a club attempting to impress MLS in order to join the ranks of the American league.

Mercy Me. Though Cantona had only two practice sessions to morph his makeshift squad into playing form, he can't expect his former club to pull any punches for an American club reestablishing its identity.

Manchester United arrives for today's match fresh off a US Tour in which they posted a 17-2 score against American opponents, including a 7-0 drubbing of the Seattle Sounders on July 20 and a 4-0 win over the MLS All-Stars on July 27. Sir Alex Ferguson also managed the Edwin van der Sar Dream Team on Wednesday in a testimonial match against the first club of the longtime Man U goalkeeper, Ajax Amsterdam.

Ferguson called upon current Red Devils Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and Nemanja Vidic among others on Wednesday, and will not hesitate to do so again for Friday's tribute to Scholes -- even as the club prepares for the FA Community Shield match against derby rival Manchester City this Sunday. Manchester United did not hold back against their US opponents nor in the van der Sar testimonial and they won't start now for the Cosmos.

Class Reunion. Pelé will be on hand as the Cosmos' Honorary President to connect the club to its history, but the Manchester United history could outshine that connection before what is expected to be a sellout crowd at Old Trafford.

Four members of the Manchester United's Class of '92 squad -- named for the many talented players to emerge from the Red Devils squad that won the FA Youth Cup in 1992 -- could appear on the field, with Neville and Butt playing for Cantona's Cosmos while Scholes and Giggs play for Manchester United.

A notable absence from the Class of '92 players appearing on Friday is Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham. According to The Daily Mail, Beckham was unable to attend the match due to contract restrictions -- though the Galaxy previously grant him permission to leave the club to play in the Gary Neville Testimonial in May. The Galaxy did not reply to an email seeking confirmation about Beckham's availability.

Cosmos Mania ready to invade Old Trafford

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
9:05
AM ET
It's not a stretch to describe the New York Cosmos as an American equivalent of the Beatles.

The Fab Four left an indelible mark in music through 12 iconic albums that John, Paul, George, and Ringo produced in a mere ten years' time, while the first incarnation of the Cosmos left a lasting imprint on American sports that still captures the hearts and minds of those who saw them play -- despite the club's existence spanning a meager 15 years and only three with legendary Brazilian playmaker Pelé in the fold.

So when the second coming of the Cosmos kick off as the first American club to play at Old Trafford against the iconic English Premier League side Manchester United, please forgive them for borrowing another page from the Beatles' playbook.

At their essence, the Beatles effectively engaged in the musical equivalent of money laundering -- they took a distinct American musical form in rock 'n roll, gave it a haircut, and sent it back to America as their own creation.

Meanwhile, the Cosmos will take another distinctly American phenomenon (themselves) to England, the birthplace of soccer. They'll authenticate themselves by fielding a side of EPL soccer stars -- including former Man U captain Gary Neville, American striker Brian McBride, and French midfielder Patrick Vieira -- that's led by another former Red Devils captain in Eric Cantona against one of the premier soccer clubs in the world.

And after the final whistle blows on the Paul Scholes Testimonial Match, the Cosmos will head back to America to reintroduce themselves as the next big thing in American soccer.

For the second coming of a soccer club whose greatest success was producing the sporting equivalent of Beatlemania, the Cosmos know they need more than a star-studded exhibition at a historic soccer stadium to recapture those New York hearts and minds again. They still have a very long way to go before Major League Soccer will embrace American soccer's prodigal son.

Until they uncover the combination of form and finances that MLS deems suitable, the Cosmos are left to prepare for their first high-profile competitive match in 27 years by reiterating the style that the club has established in its Academy efforts.

"We are exactly the same way that we ask our academy teams to play," said Cosmos Academy director Giovanni Savarese. "There’s nothing different that’s been what we’ve been trying to install with our academy, which is educating soccer. Our system is no other than 4-3-3, but every system is a good place to start and then adapt to the game that you’re playing and the team you’re playing against. We’re trying to have a team that has a lot of movement, can shoot the ball the right way, and have entertaining soccer."

Savarese knows the demands of creating entertaining soccer in New York as well as anyone. After a decorated college career at Long Island University, the Venezuelan forward was drafted in the 9th round of the MLS Inaugural Player Draft by the NY/NJ MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls). Despite playing only three seasons at the Meadowlands, Savarese became the MetroStars' all-time leading scorer with a still-standing record of 44 goals -- the first of which was the first in MetroStars history.

Just as he himself came of age playing soccer in New York City, Savarese now works to develop the talent that will become the hallmark of the new Cosmos.

"Any successful organization is able to develop the players to play for the first team," said Savarese. "We don’t want to be a team only built by players from all over the world. We welcome every player, but we want to make sure we have homegrown talent and we’re willing to develop them and make them grow and we’ll add anything we need to make it exciting and make it good. We want people not to come for names. We want people to come to watch good players and a good team that’s trying to entertain them in a good way."

A sextet of that homegrown talent made the trip across the Atlantic in part to recognize their Academy accomplishments and in part to provide a taste of what's to come for the Cosmos.

The names of Ibrahim Diaby, an 18-year-old midfielder and current student at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan, or 19-year-old Cosmos Academy West standout Marvin Iraheta may not yet grab the headlines like Pelé or Cantona, but they'll be on the sideline soaking in this experience and studying it for future reference.

Ultimately, that experience is the takeaway for what will appear to some as a brand-conscious Cosmos club fielding a Harlem Globetrotters-like side against Manchester United. When the final whistle blows on Friday and the soccer spotlight shines elsewhere, these Cosmos, unlike their forefathers, understand what it will take to get back to where they once belonged in the American soccer pantheon.

"We continue working," said Savarese. "This is just one step to what we’re trying to do. We continue to try and build the academy, finding more players. We’ll continue to have more international matches. We have to build a stadium. In the meantime, while we’re waiting to hopefully be accepted to participate in MLS, in that time, we’re still building up a team that will be playing for that. We’ll continue working."

Will they work it out? The Cosmos start finding out Friday.
We have to build a stadium.

NY Cosmos to face Manchester United at Old Trafford

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
11:39
AM ET
How will the defending English Premier League champions perform against a mythical soccer club whose existence remains in limbo?

The Red Army will see for themselves in early August. According to a release issued Friday morning on their website, Manchester United will take the pitch in a testimonial match at Old Trafford against the New York Cosmos on Friday, August 5. The testimonial will be played in honor of longtime ManU midfielder Paul Scholes, who announced his retirement from professional soccer on May 31 after spending his entire career with the Red Devils.

Eric Cantona, the Cosmos' Director of Soccer and former ManU forward, will assemble a mercenary club of all-stars for the match. The Frenchman should have his work cut out for him, as the Cosmos presently lack a senior roster and have not competed in a professional match since the NASL side disbanded in 1985.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United and I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with The New York Cosmos,” Cantona said to the NY Cosmos website. “This will be a significant and memorable match for all.”

Buried in the ManU match annoucement on their website, the Cosmos organization also indicated their plans for an anniversary match in the fall recognizing the 40th anniversary of the club's inception in 1971. These events are likely part of a plan to enhance their candidacy for joining Major League Soccer via expansion.

“Our plan has several phases, but if you fast-forward, it’s our aspiration to play at the highest level in this country, and that’s M.L.S., ” said Joe Fraga, the executive director of the new New York Cosmos, in a 2010 NY Times article announcing the reincarnation of the organization.

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